x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

RAK village where nobody voted in FNC elections

Despite a lack of basic services in remote regions of the Emirates, many UAE nationals did not vote in the FNC elections because of the distance from polling sites.

In Ras Al Khaimah's southernmost village of Al Munai, houses and schools are overcrowded, rubbish is burnt behind mountains and the hospital is closed for lack of staff.

Yet despite the need for a stronger voice before the Government, no one from Al Munai voted in the recent FNC election.

"Not one person made it," said Ahmad Jumah, 29, a villager. "Not one."

Geography may have played a significant role, with some voters unable to get to a polling station that was a three-hour drive away.

The results mirrored those in other remote corners of the Emirates, including Al Gharbia. At least one FNC candidate blamed his defeat on the low turnout in areas far from polling stations.

Mr Jumah was eligible to vote but stayed at home. Not only was it a six-hour round trip to the polls, but only one candidate campaigned in his village.

Northern RAK voters near the polling station favoured those candidates they met in the majlis, but the south was not visited by most candidates. Southerners said it was better not to vote than to pick someone they had never met.

"I don't know these people," said Mr Jumah. "They're not my family. I don't know if I should believe them or not. I don't know which person is good or not good."

The results in remote corners of the UAE help to explain why voter turnout in last week's FNC elections was so low - 28 per cent of more than 129,000 eligible voters across the Emirates, dipping to barely 21 per cent in Abu Dhabi.

In RAK, it was just slightly above the national average at 30 per cent, with 5,085 voting from the 16,850 who were eligible.

An official at the National Election Committee said there was no way of knowing how many people voted at each polling station until results were analysed and released in a proper study.

Sheikh Abdulla bin Humaid Al Qasimi, head of the RAK election committee, agreed with residents that the polling station was too far away for many voters.

"We have to open another election centre somewhere in the south of RAK," he said.

Fatema Al Dhamani, a university graduate from Nasfah in Wadi Al Qor, a RAK village that had its first roads paved in 2005, said people did not vote there because of the five-hour round trip, and because they were overlooked by candidates.

"They forgot about us," said Ms Al Dhamani. "Nobody knows our area and so nobody here likes to vote. Candidates only give us words. If some of them win, they forget all that they promise us. Most of them are like that.

"There are a lot of older people who they don't know how to read and write and so they didn't take interest in voting."

Ibrahim Al Qawdi, 36, and his brother Abdulla were the only voters from RAK's Khadra village, a three-hour round trip to the polling booth on a road jammed with lorries and notorious for fatal crashes.

"The people were not interested in Khadra because they say, 'Why do you need to go to RAK? We want to stay with our family or go to the farm'," Mr Al Qawdi said.

"To be honest I did not want to but my brother said, 'Let's go'. If you do not give your voice, nobody will do anything for you in life."

The only candidate to visit their village, Saeed Al Khatri, won a seat.

In remote areas of Al Gharbia, it was a similar story.

For Sara Salem, in Sila, it would have taken between two to three hours to get to the nearest polling station, in Madinat Zayed.

Her town is one of the most remote in Al Gharbia, bordering Saudi Arabia.

"It is a very hectic journey and I didn't think it was that urgent to vote," said Ms Salem.

The polling station in Al Gharbia was in the wedding hall next to Madinat Zayed hospital.

A two-lane road connects Madinat Zayed with the other cities in the Western Region, and it is often packed with lorries.

"I know many people who could vote just didn't go because it was too far," Ms Salem said.

Some of the defeated candidates said many of their supporters, particularly members of their tribes, could not make it to the polls because of the distance.

"Just one polling station for the whole of Al Gharbia?" said Abdullah Al Mansouri, an unsuccessful candidate. "Where some cities are over 300 kilometres away from Madinat Zayed and even further away from the two polling stations in or near the Abu Dhabi island?"

Eligible voters in Abu Dhabi could vote at any of the four polling stations in the emirate, including one in Al Ain.

Mr Al Mansouri said only 1,200 people voted at the Al Gharbia centre, where at least 6,000 voters had been expected.

"It is already difficult enough convincing voters to go and vote as it is their duty without the added issue of distance and difficulty of actually reaching a polling station," he said.